Asks agency to set limits, monitor this carcinogen

MADISON — Today, Clean Wisconsin asked the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to classify crystalline silica a “hazardous air pollutant” and to monitor how much of this carcinogenic toxin is being released into Wisconsin’s air.

“There are at least 375 sources of this dangerous toxin in Wisconsin, many in the southeastern part of the state, which already has documented air quality problems. However, for silica, we don’t even monitor to find out what the current levels are,” said Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental organization. “The DNR should act to ensure that Wisconsin residents, especially vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly, are protected from unsafe levels of this cancer-causing pollutant.”

With today’s action, Clean Wisconsin joins a group of over 100 health care professionals in northwestern Wisconsin calling for silica to be regulated.

Well-known for causing silicosis, which causes inflammation and scarring of the lungs, and a variety of other lung diseases, silica is released into the air from road building, mining, coal-fired power plants, and industrial sources such as foundries. A lesser-known fact is that crystalline silica is also a proven cancer-causing agent, which means it meets the definition of a hazardous air pollutant under Wisconsin law.

The DNR released a draft report on silica in December acknowledging this toxin is a carcinogen based on studies by the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Toxicology Program.

Inhaling crystalline silica has also been shown to cause kidney problems, enlargement of the heart, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and immune system diseases.

“Plenty of silica is being released into Wisconsin’s air by foundries, power plants and mining operations,” said Nekola. “We owe it to the citizens of our state to monitor and set safe limits for this highly toxic pollutant.”